Share & Connect
Louisiana, U.S.A. - As much as Louisianans have worked to pass ethics reforms, clean up the Legislature and show the world that the days of political corruption and old-school politics are behind now, the tactics on display last week in the Louisiana Senate Natural Resources Committee demonstrate old-school political-boss politics are still very much alive.
At issue is Louisiana’s process for addressing onshore environmental conditions that may relate to oil drilling activity that occurred decades or even a century ago. A few plaintiffs’ lawyers file huge damage claims in rural parish courtrooms and extort large settlements.
The cases can drag on for years without any environmental clean-up taking place, where needed. Surprisingly state agency research on these lawsuits released this year found that three-quarters of the claims are filed with no significant evidence of any damage, and LSU economic research found the impact to be 30,000 jobs foregone because of these so-called “legacy” lawsuits.
In a direct response to the Louisiana House’s passage of the legacy lawsuit reform bill HB 618 on April 25, 2012, plaintiff-lawyer interests rammed through committee a substitute of another bill, SB 731. The substitute bill, which includes completely new language, was introduced for the first time that morning, and passed in less than an hour with very limited discussion about what the bill actually does. It had not been properly vetted, and the public was not given access to its effects. That’s one heck of a way to pass legislation…
This is the complete opposite of the open, transparent and deliberative committee process led by Rep. Neil Abramson on House-passed legacy reform bill HB 618.
In fact this is reminiscent of same bullying tactics the trial lawyers have used to try to intimidate Rep. Abramson with trumped-up ethics complaints and the ridiculous attempt to discredit the LSU economist who identified significant economic impacts on the state from legacy suits.
It is hoped that “good government” doesn’t evolve into “whatever’s good for a few powerful plaintiffs’ lawyers,” because the Senate committee-passed bill is bad legislation. It’s no wonder they wanted to rush it through committee.
Among the many issues with the substitute bill is that it creates a bureaucratic quagmire by forcing remediation plans to be reviewed and approved by not just the state’s Office of Conservation, but also by the Commissioner of Agriculture, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, the secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality, the secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals, and in some instances the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
How could this agency merry-go-round possibly help to expedite the clean-up process?
Another major issue is tricky language in the bill which suggests the legislation is prospective, meaning it will do nothing to help resolve the backlog of hundreds of lawsuits that are currently stuck in the process.
If the goal is to prolong the process of developing a remediation plan as long as possible, for the purpose of dragging out litigation and forcing settlements to extract as much money from defendants as possible — which is the situation we already have in Louisiana today — it seems this Senate bill will certainly ensure that the legacy abuse will continue. If the goal is to expedite the process and get our land cleaned up more quickly — it is clear the Senate bill is not the solution.
Let Louisiana be a lesson that using old-school politics to bow to the greed of a few plaintiff lawyers does not make good policy.
Image Courtesy of Gage Skidmore